Pakistan has long been involved in enforced disappearances. This phenomena began in the 1970s and has become a standard practice among Pakistani security agencies, who deem this as an “essential tool of national security”. Pakistan’s military intelligence especially the ISI has perfected this heinous act and has been held responsible by various human rights groups for several disappearances.
Asim Saeed, is one such survivor of Pakistan Army’s rampant efforts to silence dissent among its ranks. While in conversation with the DISSIDENT club, he revealed to us how he still doesn’t feel safe even though he moved to the UK after what he had to face back in his country.
When asked if he hopes to find justice, he despondently replied, “I don’t think so. The civilian government exists for the sake of it and the real power lies with the military.”
Such is the situation in Pakistan where even after going through such a traumatic ordeal, the victim has no hopes of ever finding justice. When asked for specific details about what he had to go through, Saeed was apprehensive and said, “It took me nearly four years of therapy to get over the traumatic events” and that he didn’t want to recall the events.
Despite having been ill treated by his own country, he still considers himself a patriot of the soil and said that “dissidents are the strongest form of patriotism, you only criticize because you care”.
Another activist we spoke to, Fazal Afridi is based in Paris where he has founded and runs an organization ‘Institut de recherche et d’etudes strategiques de Khyber’ (IRESK) and works for the UN Working Body on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances. He is also part of the ‘Pashtun Tahfuz Movement’ (PTM) which works for the protection of the Pashtun population of Pakistan. He revealed to the DISSIDENT club that “more than 32,000 people have disappeared” when Pakistan first started targeting so-called “terror” outfits in the tribal areas of Pakistan. He said, “rather than targeting terrorists, innocent civilians were targeted and killed”. And that “heavy weaponry including the F-16s were used against local populations.”
Although the issue of enforced disappearances began from the Baloch region of Pakistan and were primarily aimed at suppressing the Baloch movement, this practice has spread across Pakistan and everyone is now under threat. “Pashtuns who have disappeared are more in numbers than the Baloch,” Afridi added.
As part of his work at the UN, he has collected data which shows “4000 cases of confirmed abduction by the Pakistani authorities”. He also added that his team has reported “185 cases of disappearances through special procedures to raise the issue.”
Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, while running for office had promised to put an end to this epidemic that Pakistan suffers from but is yet to deliver. In fact, the number of such cases of enforced disappearances has increased multi fold under his reign. When asked about the same, Afridi responded that it was so because under Imran Khan “free hand has been given to the military in all aspects and all boundaries have been crossed”. This appears to be true if one is to go back in history and see the tenures of previous PMs. Under Khan, the involvement of the military into politics has been “open and blatant,” added Afridi.
The State of Pakistan has been regularly dodging from international sanctions and pressure with respect to this matter. Off all the letters sent by the UN, addressing various cases of enforced disappearances, Pakistan has responded to just one of them and for the rest, they have merely indicated that the person was being held in one of the 44 intermittent centers.
The draconian ordinance of Pakistan, the ‘Action in Aid for Civil Order’ is one such ordinance that enables security services in Pakistan to arrest any person without a warrant and keep them in custody for 6 months. The UN has even sent a notice to the government regarding this ordinance.
Considering mounting pressure, the Pakistan government set up the ‘Commission on Enforced Disappearances’ a decade ago. When asked about the validity of this commission, both Saeed and Afridi had very similar responses in calling it “useless”. They both agree that this commission has no power or authority and has been created just to appease the international community and to “hoodwink the public” as Afridi added.
Anybody who dares to speak against the all-powerful military is basically painting a red target on themselves in Pakistan. The country is further headed down a path where the only destination in sight is a completely authoritarian regime where there is no space for dissent.
The international community, be it the various international organizations or the nations of the west who claim to be the upholders of human rights, must get involved and impose serious sanctions on Pakistan and cut off relations as long as Pakistan continues its track record of such atrocities against its own population.